Being an immigrant has its own challenges and I was curious to know from other immigrants how they were dealing with their finances. I wanted to find out the unique challenges they were facing and how they dealt with them
I am excited to present the 12th guest of the series Sebastian. He is the co-author the blog MoneySavedIsMoneyEarned. He co-authors the blog so that he could share his knowledge of finance topics in order to help others understand finance and reach their money goals.
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
1. Can you tell us about yourself? Please include any details you feel comfortable sharing about how long you’ve been in the US, what you do for a living and your income range.
I am an old-time immigrant from India that came to the US in 1979, so I will say I’ve been here for about 40 years. Fortunately, I entered the US through the proper channel with a green card in my hand, which helped me to pursue jobs and education without some of the immigration issues some people face. Even though I was college educated, adjusting to a new culture and having to understand the American accent, as well as my accent, was sort of a short-term barrier. I took the job that was available for survival regardless of my qualifications. My goal was to continue my education and obtain a degree from an accredited university in order to land a professional level job, which was an ambition my family cultivated in me as well as my 9th-grade teacher. I worked for the City of Portland, Oregon, for more than 31 years, and for 24 of those years as a Financial Analyst. My income range was between $80,000 and $99,000.
2. What was your relationship with money during the early days of your life? How did it influence your finances?
I had minimal access to money during my earlier days. I had minimal resources, even to meet the bare minimum necessities during my younger days. I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. Such an experience made me appreciate every penny I made. It also allows me to have genuine empathy for those who don’t have the means to live. I started earning my own money after I came to the US. I was the most frugal person. I only bought what I really needed, and it was not easy to indulge when I had some extra.
3. Do you discuss money with your friends, family or colleagues? How do they react when you bring up the topic of money? Is this a taboo subject?
I do discuss the topic of money with almost everyone. With a finance background, I enjoy discussing money. As a volunteer financial coach and counselor, I work with my clients and make suggestions to enhance their money handling skills. Even though I’m comfortable talking about money, I am not as comfortable discussing my own personal income.
4. What are some of the money mistakes you have committed? What lessons did you learn from it?
I did not have lots of money during the earlier days of my life due to raising a family of five, having a mortgage, car payments and by meeting the usual young family needs. So, there wasn’t much left to make money mistakes. However, during the latter part of my career, I could have taken a calculated risk with some of my retirement funds which could have raised my monthly pension a bit higher. It was primarily due to the financial collapse of 2008. Basically, I moved everything to a low earning safe investment. I planned to retire in 2013 and I did. The market went up another 25% during those five years. I feel it is better to be safe than sorry. I do not think I wasted any money but I could have made more money.
5. What is your view on debt? Do you carry any form of debt? Has it ever been a source of stress in your life?
I did not grow up with debt. Debt should not be a part of your life. Buy when you have money. Borrow if it is an emergency, I mean a real emergency. Debt is essential for most people to buy a house or a car, at times for college education (unless the money is used for non-educational recreation). I had debts and still have some small debt. Yes, it does give me a certain amount of stress, but it is limited since my assets exceed far beyond my debt.
6. How is your money invested? Does being an immigrant have any influence on your investment decisions?
I have some money invested with one of the investment companies. Most funds are invested in a portfolio consisting of diversified companies. Being an immigrant, and mostly living with less than what I need, investment is not a subject I grew up with or even thought about. I started learning some of the opportunities for investing money with the help of experienced colleagues when I started working in the US. I did invest money in mutual funds in addition to my retirement during my career.
7. Do you have any specific money situation as an immigrant (e.g. supporting an aging parent or family overseas) that influences your finances?
Yes, I did have an aging parent to support. In addition, I supported siblings, friends, and other organizations. Some of these things were a priority to me over investing. Yes, I could have invested more for myself, but the opportunity to support some of the people I mentioned cannot be matched by any investments.
8. Are you aware of the FI or FIRE movement? If yes, where did you hear about it? Are you pursuing (or have you reached) financial independence?
This is an interesting subject. It is just like an old story from India about two blind men describing what an elephant looks like; one says it is a giant wall and the other says it is a huge pillar depending on what part of the elephant each touch. For me, FIRE comes down to how work is defined. For me, work is beyond the typical 8-5 job. It can be anywhere from owning a business or doing something you have fun with to earn a living. Whether you are having fun or not, if you have to expend consistent time for earning money to make it you are working, not retired. Retiring means you have an income to support you and working is optional. I am retired and choose not to work. About 50% of the time I volunteer, and that is more fun for me. In addition, I have zero stress since paying my bills are not dependent on working.
9. What are some of the apps or tools you use to manage your finances?
I never used any apps other than what I created myself in an Excel spreadsheet. I do short term, interim, and long-range planning. In addition to the usual living expenses, I do factor in future infrequent expenses such as capital replacement costs for my house and one-time special events. Honestly, nothing works as planned, but at least it helped buffer me from surprises and reactive bad debts. Yes, debt is a debt, and mine is at least a calculated/planned debt. At least I know where I am going and what is in my way. I believe that is half of the equation!
10. Are there any specific books, blogs or podcasts on personal finance that you’d recommend to others?
Someone introduced me to Dave Ramsey’s book. No hit on Ramsey, it is a good book. However, you need to have at least a moderate amount of money to use his tools. My goal is primarily to help the average wage earner (also can be used by the higher wage earners) sharing the real-life tools that one can use every day to get the most out of your hard-earned money. Our blog site Money Saved is Money Earned is a true reflection of this philosophy.
11. What money advice do you have for new immigrants who arrive in the US?
Do not fall into consumerism. Short term fun is like fireworks, they last for a few seconds. Aim long term and be a steady light like a lantern. It takes a few years of sacrifice to invest for a fruitful long-term rich living, no pun intended. I worked multiple jobs and caught up on homework during the weekends for a good four years to get where I want to be. Yes, it was not fun at all. I worked for the next 30 years with an above average income and am now enjoying an early retirement with a pension for the rest of my life. I think the four years of sacrifice was well worth it.
12. How can people connect with you on social media?
Are you a first-generation immigrant in the US? If yes, would you like to be part of this interview series? This series will focus on personal finance for first-generation immigrants and the unique challenges they face.
You can check out my page Immigrant Finances – Interview Series for more details on how to participate in this series.